Sunday, December 16, 2012

Horses Of McBride Is (Almost) All Canadian

When the new TV season began in September CTV deservedly received some media flack for the conspicuous lack of scripted Canadian drama series on its schedule.
There was just one --Flashpoint which last week ended its five year run with a bang.
But the network redeems itself with its Canadian holiday TV movie --The Horses Of McBride which revs up on CTV Sunday Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
This is exactly what we've been waiting for.
The story is literally yanked from the headlines.
American import Aidan Quinn (Elementary) is excellently cast as the financially strapped outfitter Matt Davidson whose business just isn't what it used to be.
These days as he tells his feisty young daughter Nicki ( (MacKenzie Porter) the rich people don't really want to rough it at all. They want all the amenities and that Davidson just can't afford to provide.
So he's seeing his business of catering to tourists slowly trickle away and now he's contemplating selling the family farm nestled deep in the woodlands.
The actual story took place near Mount Renshaw B.C. but this was too remote for shooting in terms of accessibility and logistics.
So the Kananaskis Valley of Alberta proved the perfect visual backdrop with easy access to Calgary.
near Jasper National Park.
The story is inspired by the true adventures of two pack horses who were abandoned in fall 2008 by a wealthy hunter near McBride.
The two horses stayed together and  somehow survived until a severe winter storm trapped them --they were discovered emaciated and were reduced to eating each other's tails.
Based on the real Jeck family the TV movie tells a rare story of courage among both humans and animals.
The horses are trapped high in the Rockies and there are only two ways to save them.  At first there's hope they might be airlifted out but that plan is nixed by a vet who says they are way too thin to survive such an ordeal. He recommends they be put down.
Nicki has a different idea --she wants her supporters to literally dig them out --to dig a route all the way to a neighboring trucking road. But that would require the concerted labor of dozens of people and additional winter storms are on the way.
Of course the whole story was already told on an episode of the series Heartland which may be one reason CTV and not CBC is carrying this two-hour effort.
But a great story can be told any number of ways.
Veteran director Anne Wheeler (By Bye Blues) also wrote it. And Paul Gross and Frank Siracusa executive produced it. Why gross passed on the Davidson part beats me but Quinn seems right at home.
The sturdy cast also includes Kari Matchett as wife Avril Davidson and Edward Ruttle (Three Kids) as son Kenny. And as the grumbling grand dad there's Scott Hylands who I first interviewed in 1973 on the set of Toronto's Night Heat.
I remember one afternoon with Matchett in the CBC cafeteria (she'd just made the TV movie  Plague City) and she was ruminating about moving to L.A. for work.
I wasn't sure that was a good thing but she went and scored heavily in the last seasons of ER, the sci fi series Invasion, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. So Canadian TV is lucky to get her back.
One of the stars surely is the crisp photography of Peter Woesate making the location look spectacularly beautiful as well as ominous.
Although I  already knew the ending it all worked for me and CTV has cagily scheduled it Sunday night at 7  so the whole family can watch together.
And as far as  wholesome Canadian stories go all I can plead is simply this: More Please!
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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